OK, all you white people, come over here. Let’s talk. Living as I do in New York City, I’ve noticed that around 50% of you are horrified by our new orange president ( 80% in New York City). The rest of you voted for him.
I know you keep telling me that doesn’t make you racist and that only SOME of you MIGHT be racist, and that I shouldn’t be acting like all of you are racist. Calmer heads than mine are saying that Trump represents Change, not a neo-Nazi membership drive.
Here’s why I don’t believe you.
Let me tell you about a Christmas Miracle that happened just this week, in the independent city-state of New York. My 17-year-old eldest daughter was walking home from her job at the bookstore, just as a rare cold front was moving in to displace the 60-degree “winter-in-San-Diego” weather that’s the new normal in NYC. Daughter wrapped her yak-wool scarf around her head and ears to avoid frostbite, and as she passed by, a random Trump supporter turned and told her: “You people have no place in my country.”
Now, what would you do? What would your child do?
The child of “nice people” would just keep walking and act like the whole ugly incident never happened. Denial is powerful.
The child of a Trump supporter would want to clear up the confusion: “Wha? No! Look! It’s just a scarf! I hate Muslims too!” Then they would make sure never to leave home without their “make America great again” earmuffs to avoid that kind of unpleasantness in future.
A child raised by Michelle Obama would go high when they go low: “The first amendment guarantees my right to the religion and the clothing of my choice. May God bless you and this great country.”
That’s not what my daughter did. Although she’s a demure young lady at heart, our eldest daughter was raised as a true New Yorker by Al, who grew up in the Bronx. In the Bronx, you don’t take shit lying down. She turned to face the random racist, and asked him these two questions, which I will attempt to tone down a bit with dingbats for the more timid among you:
Question #1: “What the f*ck is wrong with you? “
Question #2 “Why don’t you go shove something up your ass, you nasty racist m*therf*cker?”
The very next day, she walked out of school to join the massive protest on 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower. Al almost cried with joy when he heard about it.
And here’s the miracle part: no one ever says things like that to me. Ever. Even when they see me on the beach in my burkini. The police are always friendly and polite. I’m never stopped and frisked. While hurrying through the airport to my gate, I’m never pulled into the search room by Security, and when Al is, he’s usually released as soon as they realize I’m his wife. I could shave my head, tattoo a snake coiled around each ear, wear a hoodie over baggy dance-pants with a golden dinner plate on a rope around my neck, and the airline desk personnel would just smile, pat my head, and ask if I need extra assistance to board the plane.
In short, I’m the opposite of what profilers are profiling for. I hear some of you saying, “Duh! You’re no threat. Why should they stop you?” True, but my personal astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is also no threat, yet look what happens to him. All. The. Time.
If you’re white like me, and have lived among white folk all your life, you never had the opportunity to notice anything else. I certainly never did, until I moved to New York. Don’t get me wrong: New York City has segregated worlds within worlds (check out Primates of Park Avenue for a description of a particularly overheated little universe), but it is substantially different from the world I grew up in. That world was so segregated, I never met anyone of color at all except for the housekeeper. It was easy to say I wasn’t racist, because, like my grandmother before me, I believed that “black people are just as good as normal people!”
Looking back, the people I met in New York who helped educate me were kind and patient. It helped that I was young and cute at first, because I spewed unconscious white privilege and stereotypical assumptions out of my every pore. But, when you live and work and eat and drink with people of all ethnic groups and nations, you learn that the world is bigger than you thought, and that life is different for different people. You also learn that everyone is just people, like you. The second Christmas Miracle is that I did learn, eventually. Today, I give my profound thanks to everyone along the way who helped teach me about race in America.
What did I learn? I learned the obvious: being a white woman has given me huge advantages. The only time I ever faced outright prejudice was in Utah in the ‘80s, when a coffee shop refused service to me and my husband, because he’s Dominican. But that’s it. Sure, I try to do my part by hailing cabs for African-American men who are getting bypassed – I used to do this all the time: look a stranger in the eye and say “would you accept my help in hailing a cab for you?” If the offer was refused, I would wish him a nice day and depart. If it was accepted, I’d stick out my white arm, get a cab in 3 seconds flat, open the door, and tell the cabbie “Thanks. Please take my friend to his destination.”
I thought that world was disappearing, but now it’s roaring back. Trump has given the racists a free pass to try a little domestic terrorism. White folks are wearing safety pins to show how much they abhor this, because frankly, most of them didn’t think it was possible. I’m not in a position to come down for or against safety pins – go for it if you wish – but we are going to need more than that. We’re going to need to fight against bigotry and racism within our own people.
Speak up and stand up. Tell the old lady who says “in my day that girl would have to ride in the back of the bus” that it is not her day even if she thinks it is, and you are appalled by her racism. If you have a sense of humor, you could try “That girl? You mean my wife?” This works even better if you’re a white woman. If you see physical intimidation, intervene. Step up and say it is wrong Most importantly, when you are surrounded by your fellow white folks and they start talking racist crap because no one of color is around, stand up and tell them you’re done with racism and they need to know that.
Here’s a shirt that will help. And, if words fail you, I suggest you try Question #1 and Question #2, provided by my daughter.